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EU says Lukashenko is not legitimate Belarus president

FILE PHOTO: Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office as Belarusian President during a swearing-in ceremony in Minsk, Belarus September 23, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko is not the legitimate president of Belarus, the European Union said on Thursday, saying his abrupt swearing-in on Wednesday went directly against the will of the people.

The ceremony accelerated EU plans to boycott Lukashenko following the disputed Aug. 9 election, as the European Parliament had earlier decided not to recognise the veteran leader from November, when his term as president was due to end.

“The so-called ‘inauguration’ ... and the new mandate claimed by Aleksander Lukashenko lack any democratic legitimacy,” the EU’s 27 states said in a statement.

“This ‘inauguration’ directly contradicts the will of large parts of the Belarusian population, as expressed in numerous, unprecedented and peaceful protests since the elections, and serves to only further deepen the political crisis in Belarus.”

The EU, a large financial donor to Belarus, also said it was “reviewing its relations” with the country, meaning the bloc would seek to cut off direct funding to Lukashenko’s government, channelling it to aid groups and hospitals instead.

Before the election, the EU had committed to spend 135 million euros on projects in Belarus and has also pledged 53 million euros for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discussed with EU foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels how to bypass state administration to support doctors and hospitals.

“I asked Europe not to support financially the regime. All the money Mr.Lukashenko can get now will not go to support the Belarusian people but will go for those repressions,” she told reporters, referring to the pro-democracy crackdown.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean

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